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Rare Kotzebue thunderstorm latest in 'weird' NW Alaska weather

  • Author: Suzanna Caldwell
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published August 22, 2014

Some Kotzebue residents got a noisy awakening early Friday morning. A thunderstorm drifted over the Northwest Alaska hub community at about 3:36 a.m., according to the National Weather Service, bringing with it lightning and .4 of an inch of rain.

For much of the rest of the world, thunderstorms aren't extraordinary. But Fairbanks-based forecaster Jim Brader noted that Kotzebue averages .6 thunderstorms a year, or roughly one every two years, and they hardly ever occur at night.

Kotzebue, population 3,000, is on a mile-long gravel spit that juts into Kotzebue Sound. The maritime climate usually prevents thunderstorms from rolling into town, preventing warm, moist air at lower levels from mixing with cooler air at higher elevations.

But this season there's been an uptick in storms in the region. Brader said there has been one thunderstorm a day over the past eight days on the Seward Peninsula due to a lingering mass of cold air. There are usually only a handful of thunderstorms in the region each year, and never a series lasting more than two or three days, Brader said.

"They could have eight years with no thunderstorms," he said.

Ross Schaeffer, former Northwest Arctic Borough mayor, said the storm was so loud it woke his wife, though he said he is a heavy sleeper and slept through it.

Schaeffer said the storm's timing was strange because it was warmer earlier in the evening before cooling off at night. Normally when there's a storm, it's during a warm evening.

He said the Friday storm even brought lightning right into Kotzebue, an even more uncommon event.

Overall, Schaeffer noted, it's been a cooler-than-average summer, with hardly any warm days until recently. That, coupled with a late freezeup in November 2013 and an early breakup in April, has left residents wondering what's up with the crazy weather this year.

"It's been an extremely weird year," he said.

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